El Rushbo and the Right to be Heard

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I was searching for speeches in which politicians catered specifically to Millennials. Of course, this age group has diverse views like any age cohort and is therefore not a homogenous voting bloc or monolithic political force by any means.

However, I came across an official transcript of the Rush Limbaugh show in which the titular host summarizes a recent PolicyMic conference speech to Millennials and says, “No one has the right to be heard.” This brings to mind an attitude of disenfranchisement which justifies everyone with weak or nonexistent political and socioeconomic power as deserving their lot in life.

Yes, we have the free agency to ignore others — but if the societal cost of pretending someone doesn’t matter at all or even exist is higher rates of depression and lost productivity, then I would choose to acknowledge that I heard a person’s existential statements and complaints. This does not mean I agree with those complaints or that I understand their situation; it merely means I respect them at a human-to-human level to listen.

One could get into a philosophical discussion of whether people deserve a minimum baseline of respect for simply being fellow humans or whether people should be viewed as nothing more than lumps of organic matter with legal personhood, nonetheless who shouldn’t receive any respect until they establish a track record of doing things which earn social rewards. For instance, I blog to express myself and don’t worry about how much of a social reward I might receive; I just enjoy seeing my writing on the Internet and dominating search engine results for statistically rare phrases such as “pleasure blogging” and “organic matter with legal personhood.”

I’m not here to antagonize you, Rush, because there are tons of online bullies using their Internet pulpits to criticize you, sometimes rightfully and at other times baselessly. A few privileged people make a living out of excoriating you in magazines, newspapers, radio shows, and television programs. However, all your vocal critics have missed one thing — your contention that no one has the right to be heard.

Now you might not respect me, Rush, but I respect you — not for hosting a national radio for over two decades or for making the New York Times bestseller list, but for having the sense to realize university studies would never help you fulfill your goal of becoming a top radio host.

Why the respect for dropping out of Southeast Missouri State University (SMSU) after one year? Because people were telling you left and right that for the sake of your career and future family, you had to keep sacrificing valuable time and money in an educational system indifferent to your job prospects, yet you went against the conventional wisdom and proved yourself right: The time and money spent producing your radio show were far better spent than they ever could have been for any educational program.

You and I share an acknowledgement of how internships, apprenticeships, and other hands-on training are the most important part of formal education. For this reason, you found little interest in university studies and left SMSU because you already had an internship which — unlike most modern internships — did not require the intern to be enrolled in college.

I also respect your generosity towards waiters and other tipped service workers. You don’t trumpet that on your show, but an unusually positive non-partisan article brought your altruistic characteristics to light, apparently out of amazement per the assumption of most readers “not knowing.” I also understand that if the topic of how much to tip opportunity employees arose on your show, then your audience would expect a certain outrageousness of austerity towards such working poor, less their disappointment causes the ratings to drop and sponsors to pay less for ad spots.

So with the understanding that this letter to you is an appeal to the private Rush rather than to the public radio jockey, here’s an enacted heart-to-heart exchange:

Ohler: Rush Limbaugh, I’m calling you out!

Limbaugh: What do you want, you mealy-mouthed punk?

Ohler: The suicide rate for men in your age group has almost doubled in the past decade. What would keep you sane if you lost your radio show through the very same lack of being heard — and even your wife? Would you consider yourself as retaining a right to be heard? If not, then how would you maintain your self-worth?

Limbaugh: Well, yes — I’d still be a household name.

Ohler: But if you called members of your fan club to make yourself heard, how many would realize it’s you and not a prankster? Who would be left to hear and acknowledge you a year or two after you’re off the air?

Limbaugh: It’s tough to tell; mere speculation. What’s your point?

Ohler: My point is that simply being heard and acknowledged increases a person’s self-worth and therefore improves mental health. The simple gift of time to others who might not appear to deserve it can actually be a lifesaver. And although you’ve assiduously avoided disclosure of your religious beliefs, I couch my appeal to decency in conservative terms by observing the very act of acknowledging someone’s communication can be the very spark which kickstarts his or her attempt to rise out of a rut; the act of listening becomes a means of personal empowerment, the “bootstrap” by which one can “pull up” himself or herself.

Limbaugh: Listening to adults whining is the role of psychologists and loved ones.

Ohler: Many people are unable to afford a psychologist, and chances are their loved ones are either messed up as well or otherwise gone. They might hear each other’s grievances, but only if they do not subscribe to your idea that no one has a right to be heard.

Let us remember the anecdote of a bridge jumper who left a suicide note saying, “If no one smiles to me on my way to the edge, then I jump.” Surely he or she met other potential jumpers on the way, but none reached out because they held your attitude that being acknowledged as a worthwhile human being is a privilege, not a right (UW-Extension Student Success Director Janis P. Ford, take note).

Do you want to contribute to this destruction of human capital by enabling feelings of self-loathing, or do you want to be someone’s personal hero on what would have been their day of self-destruction? Perhaps more politically compelling: Will so many people without a right to be heard turn to, empower, and expand the state so they will have a systemic vehicle by which to be heard?

Limbaugh: Hmmm. You have a point; some of those suicides were undoubtedly conservatives, given their age bracket. We need older citizens to continue voting, and they cannot vote if they are dead. By golly, you have a point!

Ohler: That’s not quite what I had in mind, but I’m glad the effect is the same. Thanks for coming around and offering to lend an ear when someone says he or she feels powerless and disenfranchised; you just may inspire others with this story on your radio show.

Rush Limbaugh denies right to having self heard, says we can all ignore each other.

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